The long-awaited inquest into the death of Sean Rigg at Brixton police station opened today with evidence from his sister Marcia Rigg-Samuel, who said police had simply told her that her brother had “collapsed and died” for years ago.
Ms Rigg-Samuel, who struggled to hold back the emotion, said that police visited in August 2008 but “we never heard from them again.” He died in a caged area of the police station.
She added: “I was shocked when they said he’d collapsed because he was a very fit and healthy young man.”
There was a six hour delay before his family were notified. Police have said that CCTV in the van and station were not working at the time.
The inquest at Southwark Coroners Court heard that Mr Rigg was well-known to Brixton police station, having been arrested on numerous occasions over several years when his mental health deteriorated.
Ms Rigg-Samuel said her brother had always previously been taken to “a place of safety” – a mental health hospital.
She told the jury she had “lost count” of how many times Mr Rigg had been picked up by the police. Mr Rigg, a musician, had lived a normal life for long periods but occasionally relapsed when he did not take medication.
The inquest heard how Mr Rigg would travel to foreign countries, including Switzerland, Thailand, France and Sweden, and be detained by the authorities there before being returned to Britain.
The six week hearing is expected to hear evidence from the four officers who arrested Mr Rigg, along with 14 members of the public who witnessed his restraint in the street.
Mr Rigg, 40, had suffered mental health problems for 20 years. His consultant psychologist, Professor Tom Fahy, said that Mr Rigg had been known to become violent before being sectioned but would also engage with professionals responsible for his care.
Prof Fahy said there “was a revolving door aspect to his care” and that administering medication was preferred over psychological therapy. He said Mr Rigg challenged mental health professionals over their decisions, and was “a free-spirited young black man.”
Mr Rigg would take half the dose of his medication, which was “effective but not ideal”, and also raised issues of race and culture with Prof Fahy and his staff.
The day of his death began when hostel staff where he lived called 999. Mr Rigg attracted attention because he was not properly dressed and was acting bizarrely. According to police he became ‘ill’ soon afterwards and an ambulance was called.
Family members said they were discouraged from viewing the body but when they did they noticed facial injuries which they were not told about. Mr Rigg’s family have also been critical of the Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation.
A total of 198 black and ethnic minority people have died in police custody or following contact with police since 1990 – representing 14 per cent of all such deaths.